Saturday, 18 June 2016 00:51

Exciting Video Announcement

15 1 2Ways cover4In this video I announce the release of my new e-book on amazon, 15 1/2 Ways to Personalize Learning. In the book I present a variety of proven, user-friendly teaching strategies, ideas, and activities that simplify the challenge of personalizing student learning and enable educators to meet children’s diverse needs confidently, effectively, and joyfully.

This teaching resource is divided into four sections.

Part 1: Personalize the approach students take to their work

Part 2: Personalize academic instruction (This part includes my favorite method of integrating technology in the classroom.)

Part 3: Personalize student goals

Part 4: Personalize each child’s classroom experience

There is also a link in the book that provides access to a free PDF with over 25 printable pages that make it easy to incorporate the book’s ideas in the classroom.

Click here to see the book on amazon.com.  


Click here to see the video.

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     Last week I described the self-esteem benefits that surfaced when I presented the Thrively strength assessment results to my students in groups rather than individually. During these conversations another powerful benefit of using Thrively in the classroom emerged—improved group functioning.
     When children work together on an academic activity, teachers, of course, want each group to complete the task successfully and produce quality work. The primary goals of cooperative learning, however, have less to do with the final products the kids create and more to do with the development of important habits of character that will serve students well throughout their lives. For example, when members of a group work together, we want the students to treat one another with kindness and respect, be open to the ideas of others, solve disagreements peaceably, maintain their focus without straying off task, and take pride in the final product the group produces. These are extremely valuable life skills.
     Thrively helps take cooperative learning to an even higher level. Now, in addition to focusing on important habits of character, students can use the information from the strength assessment results to determine how each member is able to contribute most effectively to the team's efforts. My favorite example of this phenomenon happened when one student noticed that his write-up described him as a strong "big picture" thinker while his partner's mentioned a keen ability to pay attention to detail. In a really cool "aha" moment, the first child said, "Hey, when we start our project, I can try to think of the big ideas, and he can help with the details."
     Children who display the habits of character that cooperative learning requires and possess the ability to analyze each group member's strengths to determine how everyone can contribute fully to the team will become our leaders of tomorrow. Bringing this mindset to cooperative learning will empower students to maximize both individual and team potential. Strength-based cooperative learning will also provide children with experiences that more closely resemble the type of work they will do as they progress through school and enter our 21st century economy.
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    In last week's post, I mentioned that my each of my students took an online strength assessment at Thrively.com and received a detailed summary of the results that was 100% positive and motivating. I first incorporated the results of this strength profile into my instruction during the Community Resource Project, a problem-based learning unit that was part of our science curriculum. (To review, Thrively is a free website for teachers and parents that’s designed to help children discover their interests and passions, personalize the learning process, and maximize their amazing potential. Over the past few months, I have been collaborating with the founder of the company due to our mutual interest in strength-based education and teaching the whole child.)
    After my students took this online strength profile, my original plan was to meet individually with each child to discuss the results and determine the different ways we could incorporate the identified strengths into our daily learning and try to develop them further. Our daily independent reading period is the only consistent time I have to confer with the kids, but I knew I needed to devote the next two weeks of conferring time to conducting one-on-one reading assessments.  
    Rather than wait, I decided to hold these conversations while the children were working on the Community Resource Project. Instead of meeting with each individual child, I met with each group. I thought this decision would allow me to go over the strength profiles in a manner that was more efficient and that wouldn’t take too much time away from each group’s work.
    An unexpected benefit of this decision soon surfaced that was far more important than efficiency.
    After first gaining each child’s consent to share the assessment results with their partner present, I read the write-ups aloud as all group members listened. I quickly realized that it’s one thing for children to hear their teacher describing their strengths. It’s quite another for children to hear their teacher describing their strengths while peers listened to the entire conversation.
     Presenting the write-ups to a whole group, as opposed to individual children, changed the dynamic significantly and took what otherwise would have been a private moment and transformed the occasion into an event in which students felt as if they were in the spotlight, gaining attention for something that was 100% positive and gaining validation and respect for the skills and attributes they brought to the group. This was especially valuable for students who may have never before received this type of recognition. The self-esteem boost was incredible.
    From now on, every time my students begin a group project with new partners, I plan to review the strength profiles in this way to get the team off to a great start.  
     Next time, I will share another significant benefit of using Thrively in the classroom: helping each group perform more effectively.
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After completing the California Choice Project, my students moved to their next Problem-Based Learning unit, the Community Resource Project. Focusing on earthquakes, landslides, and other land changes, this science unit was introduced by the following problem statement:

“You work for the government of a city that has seen many changes to the land over the years. You have lived in this city your whole life. Many people have been moving to your city lately, and they have never seen these types of changes before. Understandably, they are nervous about living in such an unfamiliar environment. You will create a resource that teaches new residents about these different types of land changes. Your resource must include the definition and pictures of landslides, earthquakes, creep, chemical weathering, mechanical weathering, dunes, volcanoes, runoff, erosion, and deposition. Also, your resource must include some type of rating or description of how dangerous each of these things usually are.”  

There are three major differences between this unit and the previous one. First, as I mentioned in last week's post, the kids had complete “choice of team.” Those who wanted to work alone were allowed to do so, while everyone else chose the members of their team. Many children decided to work with the same people as last time, and others formed brand new groups.

Second, whereas the kids were charged with creating a presentation in the California Choice Project, they were now being asked to make a resource. This change enabled the kids to engage in a different type of creative thinking and call upon different strengths and talents. Most groups chose to produce full-color books that we had printed and bound. A few groups, who saw some of their classmates create slide shows last time around, decided to go this route this time around. One ambitious pair, whose members have an interest in programming, decided to make a website.

Finally, the Community Resource Project was the first time we used the valuable information that we gained from Thrively.com, a free website for teachers and parents that’s designed to help children discover their interests and passions, personalize the learning process, and maximize their amazing potential. The process of using Thrively begins when the kids take an engaging, online strength assessment. After completing the strength profile, the children each receive a detailed write-up that’s 100% positive and motivating. As a teacher who’s dedicated to developing the whole child, I appreciate Thrively’s inclusion of not only academic strengths and interests, but also social skills, personality traits, and critical “real-life” attitudes and aptitudes.    
 
Though the strength profiles are created for individual students, I discovered two ways to use this information to help the kids work more effectively in their groups. I will share these strategies as this blog series rolls on.

(Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to let you know that I have begun collaborating with Thrively.com and its founder in recent months because of our mutual interest in teaching the whole child.)
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